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Teaching Thanksgiving Dinner at the University of Paris 8

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This year like every year I had my theater class in Paris create Thanksgiving dinners. I gave them the same instructions I always do: four family members, a stranger, and the centerpiece of a turkey. I explain to them the Pilgrim story (like I heard it as a kindergartner), admittedly with some holes--like not remembering whether or not the Native Americans were invited. I tell them to use all the dramatic techniques they have learned in class for their skit: from conflict to character development.

This year's Thanksgiving Dinners were like no other.

In one, the family is divided by Trump: loyalties for and against.

The raging patriarch throws the turkey off the table when he finds out his daughter has a Mexican fiancé.

"You're not even from U.S.A.!" he screams.

He then pronounces vehement anti-abortion views.

But when he finds out his daughter is pregnant with the Mexican, he screams: "YOU BETTER ABORT IT!"

The girl demurely says: "But I want to keep it!"


In the next Thanksgiving Dinner, a daughter shows up at the table with a Muslim boyfriend...

He too does not fare well at the dinner.

"Where are you from?" the father, who stands in front of a huge Crucifix (his company makes crucifixes), asks the newcomer, staring at the dark skin.

"From Dubai!" says the suave boyfriend (actually from Spain).

"Where? Where? Oh who cares! It's out of U.S.A!"

He refuses to accept his daughter's plea to lead his Crucifix business: first, because she is a woman ("No woman in a leadership role!"), and second, because of the Dubai boyfriend.

But then when the Dubai boyfriend offers to help finance his business--with much needed Arab oil money--the father throws his arm around the Muslim's shoulders and offers him a leg of turkey.

In the meantime, his military son grabs a gun and threatens to shoot them all.

Huh, I thought watching.

So this is my country in the eyes of my students: xenophobic, racist, patriarchal, ignorant and violent: the laughing-stock of the world.

How, I worried, am I going to teach next semester's course on American theater and film?

I always taught that course proudly in the past: enthusing to my students (who come from over 15 countries worldwide) about all the advances that my wonderful country has led the world in: in feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, GLBT rights, and the American dream. The USA is a unique country that allows all voices to challenge the status quo: voila the premise of this course which introduces students to the ground-breaking texts of August Wilson, Sam Shepard, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Spaulding Gray and Hanay Geiogamah.

Next semester, I will have to rephrase that.

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